Reschenthaler gives Saccone a second election loss in two months
Congressional candidate Guy Reschenthaler defeated Republican rival Rick Saccone in Tuesday's primary election to unofficially set up a November challenge with a retired automotive industry executive from Westmoreland County.
For Saccone, who called Reschenthaler to concede the race just before 10:30 p.m., it was the second loss in a congressional race in just two months.
Reschenthaler, 35, a state senator from Jefferson Hills, had collected 55.3 percent of the votes counted compared with Saccone's 44.7 percent with 96 percent of Pennsylvania's voting precincts reporting as of 12:15 p.m., according to unofficial tallies.
"I'm just really humbled by all the grassroots support that came out for us. We started this race down, so I'm excited to see where we are now." said Reschenthaler, who came up short against Saccone in a closed-door selection process for the GOP nomination to run against Democrat Conor Lamb in a March special congressional election.
Reschenthaler appears poised to face Democratic Bibiana Boerio, 64, of Unity in November. She had collected 43.3 percent of the votes counted to lead the four-way Democratic race, unofficial results showed.
Saccone earned the Republican nomination to run in the March special election, but lost to Lamb despite outside conservative groups spending about $12 million to boost his campaign in a district that Donald Trump won by 19 percentage points in 2016. Support from some Republican leaders evaporated after that.
Reschenthaler called Saccone's loss to Lamb "embarrassing" during the campaign and tried to convince voters that his youth, energy and fundraising abilities would make him better suited than Saccone to defeat a Democrat in the fall.
Despite his back-to-back losses, Saccone kept a sense of humor, joking that after "like 15 months' straight" of campaigning he'd finally have time to mow his lawn.
"It's like 10 feet high," Saccone said during a two-minute concession speech at Irwin's Jacktown Ride & Hunt Club.
Saccone got serious when he urged Republicans to unite around Reschenthaler in an effort to win in November.
The March special election was held to replace former U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, who resigned last year over reports that the pro-life Republican from Upper St. Clair asked a mistress to get an abortion during a pregnancy scare.
That race was in the existing 18th Congressional District, but the winner in November will represent the newly created 14th Congressional District, covering part of Westmoreland County along with Washington, Fayette and Greene counties. Voters in the new district favored Trump over Hillary Clinton by a margin of 29 percentage points in 2016.
Saccone and Reschenthaler, both military veterans, shared similar positions on conservative issues, with each promoting their anti-abortion and pro-gun voting records in Harrisburg.
Saccone made the case that his service in the Air Force's Office of Special Investigations in South Korea, combined with a year he spent in North Korea representing an international organization building nuclear power plants, had prepared him to serve on several House committees and to advise President Trump on relations with the country.
Reschenthaler, who served in the Navy, called for Saccone to release his military records during the campaign, citing a March article published by The Guardian that said Saccone overstated his role in North Korea.
Saccone released discharge papers along with some evaluations and performance reports, which described him as a model investigator who was innovative and reliable in carrying out successful counterintelligence missions. Reschenthaler also released his.
Trump, who endorsed Saccone and campaigned for him in Western Pennsylvania during the special election race, didn't endorse a candidate in this week's primary.
Murphy, who recently started working as a political consultant, supported Reschenthaler in the race, giving $200,000 to a political action committee that bought ads and mailers supporting him.
Reschenthaler singled out Murphy during his victory speech.
"Not only has he had my 'six' in my entire time in politics," Reschenthaler said, using a military reference for watching someone's back, "but he's really become a good friend."
Wes Venteicher and Natasha Lindstrom are Tribune-Review staff writers.